I was reading an article last night, “The Untold Story of the Cuban 5,” by Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly.

His detailed history of the travails of the Cuban 5 reminded me once again that these Cuban men are victims of both a failed U.S. policy of hostility toward Cuba and a criminal justice system that turned reality on its head.

The only “crime” of these Cuban patriots was to expose the activities of terrorists hoping to destroy socialist Cuba. For that, the five were handed punishingly long jail sentences, including life sentences for some.

Anti-Cuba terrorists, operating out of Miami with a wink from U.S. authorities, have organized violent attacks against Cuba’s citizens and property for five decades, including assassination attempts against Fidel Castro. At the same time, these hoodlums have threatened and intimidated dissenters who wanted to see better relations with Cuba.

Many hoped that the election of President Obama would inaugurate a new era of better relations with Cuba. And early on the president signaled a desire to melt the ice.

But not much has happened since. In fact, in some instances U.S. actions have been at loggerheads with those stated intentions.

In the case of the Cuban 5, the administration filed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court contesting a lower court’s decision throwing out the convictions of the five because of the biased atmosphere and proceedings of the Miami trial where they were initially convicted.

Then, the State Department vetoed the applications of the wives and other family members of the five simply to visit their loved ones in prison.

This is no way to reset Cuban-American relations.

Whose interests are served by these vindictive actions and, more generally, by the policy of hostility toward Cuba? Not the Cuban or American people! Not even major corporate interests who would like to trade and invest in Cuba! Not our national security! Not our international reputation! Not our relations with Latin America!

It’s true that constructive overtures toward Cuba will be bitterly opposed by right-wing extremists and the anti-Castro Cuban mafia, but I’m not persuaded that it is only fear of their influence on public opinion and elections that constrains the president from making good on his rhetorical commitment to improved relations.

What else then hampers a change in our policy of blockade and hostility toward Cuba, of which the frameup of the Cuban 5 is an inextricable part?

My suspicion is that some in the president’s inner circle and institutions of our “national security state” – the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc. – insist that Cuban leaders bow down to the U.S. and pledge major changes, if not a complete overhaul, in their political system.

In other words, the foreign policy establishment is ready to improve relations, but only as long as Cuba accepts a subordinate status and makes concessions in its internal life.

But this negotiating stance is badly flawed. The Cubans have long shown that they won’t grovel and trade away their independence. They are asking for peace and justice, not favors, and they will negotiate only as equals, not supplicants.

More broadly, the administration’s foreign policy positions though better than those of the previous occupants of the White House are still not completely in sync with new world realities – one of which is that the U.S. can no longer rule the world, by fiat or sword. A unipolar world with the U.S. at its apex is a thing of the past.

The U.S. has to yield (or be compelled to yield) its dominant status in the global theater, in its own interests as well as the interests of the world’s peoples and countries. It has to become another member of the world community with no special rights or privileges.

The reorienting of our foreign policy in this way (strategic rather than tactical) will require enormous courage and skill, especially given the sure opposition of the extreme right and powerful corporate and state interests. It will also require the vigorous support of the American people, especially our working class.

But can we do anything less? Not in my opinion. The Obama administration, as mentioned above, has made some (tactical) moves toward a more realistic foreign policy and they should be welcomed. But it still maneuvers (Afghanistan, Honduras, Taiwan, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.) to maintain its dominant position in world politics, thereby laying the ground for continued and aggravated insecurity, instability and violence, in a period that begs for an easing of tensions and a new era of cooperation and joint action.

Humankind can solve global challenges (climate change and environmental degradation, food insufficiency, poverty, endemic diseases, terrorism, nuclear weapons, and so forth), but only on the basis of mutual interests and equality between states and peoples worldwide. 

That brings me back to Cuba and the Cuban 5. One positive step in that direction would be to lift the U.S. blockade on Cuba and restore normal relations. As a gesture of good faith, President Obama should release the Cuban 5, who have exhausted all legal remedies, from their unjust and punitive incarceration.

It will be good for America, and the world will celebrate.





Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.